31 May 2012

On holiday

I'm officially on holiday now until I return from the States on 12 June. I've thought of my thesis 378 times this morning.

I'm going to the States for the maths-literate younger sister's wedding and managed to complete what I needed to. Now it's just a matter of getting on that plane and going.

Anyway. America: see you soon.

24 May 2012

Hard to be a decent human being

Thursday mornings, I get up and take Naomi to school. This leaves me with some time between 7:30 and 8:30 when I should be working, but I never get around to working. 

23 May 2012


I owe you a blog about:
  • Counselling
  • My job search
  • My thesis
  • My health
But now? Now I don't have time.

17 May 2012

Hope can be a verb

Here's a writing prompt: try to blog about something other than your thesis, health, or situational depression.

I've taken to wearing earplugs at work some times, rather than listening to music. Music is distracting, with its words and phrases. I should listen to more jazz, but I just want to be alone with my thoughts every now and then. The earplugs give this to me, allow the rest of the world to slide away, as that great British rock band once said.

I am feeling better: after all the frustration of the last couple of weeks, I was sort of losing control. I can tell when I lose control by how much I'm eating. Now I'm running six days a week instead of four to prepare for this half marathon. It's different from the marathon training because it's less about endurance and more about speed. The first week was torture, absolute torture, but mostly because I didn't take control of my eating. If you want to run quickly and often, you have to watch what you eat, and you can't load up the night before you run. You feel slow, bloated, and frustrated. My weight has been all over the place leading up to and after the marathon. In two months, it fluctuated 8 kgs, which is incredible to me. So much water. Even now, this week: on Sunday morning, I was 84.1 kgs, this morning I was 79.9 kgs. This is all, however, under my control: I change my diet and how much I eat and the water just drops off me. It's bizarre: I will probably get under 79 kgs by Saturday morning and then my body will pause (at around 18% body fat) and decide what to do. I will plateau and stay there if I adjust my eating again, or start dropping again in about six days time if I keep up my current eating pattern (High fat and protein, low carb, calorie-restricted, intermittent fasting with exercise), or balloon back up in two weeks if I go back to what I was doing pre-marathon. One of the things I've learned in all my health adventures is how to make my body respond in the way that I want it to.

I would like to run the half-marathon at 75 kgs, but a lot of that will depend on how I eat leading up to the race. All this crap about carb-loading is, I think, crap. You need the energy that you need to run, but if you let your body go, it will run itself into a whole. More, more, more, more: cereal by the truckload. It doesn't know when to stop. All I want is for that gun time to read 1:3-:-- when I get across the finish line. Nothing else matters.

Thanks for asking about the thesis too, by the way. I put in a chapter to my supervisors yesterday and have to put in another one in two weeks time. I have a lot more work to do on this other chapter than the one I put in yesterday. I know what I think I want to say, but I'm not saying it. I'm saying something else. I took out a pair of scissors yesterday and cut up two sections that need to become one, rearranged the paragraphs by theme, and taped them together. This morning, I was supposed to come in and rearrange them in my document. I have not yet done that.

Instead, I filled out a job application, something I am doing at least once a week now. I'm getting better at it, I remember the dates easier and I can just whip through one. I have some good stock paragraphs built about my experience and sparkling personality, so I pop those in the 'Why should we hire you?' box, adapt them to the context, and send it out. The one I sent today though... More realistic than others I've sent. You start to get a sense of which applications you are sending into a black hole and which ones might potentially come back as something. I'm not sure where I sit right now on the UK university hiring totem pole, but I'm hoping that I'm somewhere...

That said, it is 12:37 PM as I write this sentence and in exactly, exactly two weeks, we will be in a car on our way to the airport on our way to Chicago on our way to the maths-literate younger sister's wedding. The maths-literate younger sister is getting married. Just like that. Well, not just like that for her, but for me, as her older brother, it seems like it's just happening. I've managed to keep myself relatively unaffected emotionally about it, but that's only because I've been running like mad. When she said something about her name changing, my heart sort of dropped: wow, yes, of course. We will still, I hope, find times where we are inexplicably on the top of the Effiel Tower together, looking down on the world—just the two of us. But it's hard to not be nostalgic.
When I look at this picture and think about all the things that have happened in my life, I suddenly have an overwhelming sense of gratitude. My twenties, this whole damn decade, has been incredible. How did I end up on the top of the Eiffel Tower with my maths-literate younger sister? Well... It's a long story.

15 May 2012

Five years

Naomi was such a surprise. I was scared of her until I saw her face for the first time and she looked like me: Yoko and me. Everything was okay after that. I remember driving home from the hospital as the sun was coming up: May 15, 2007, a new day, a new family. Everything was okay.

Naomi, you woke up smiling today when I told you it was your birthday. You make every day better than the day before.

14 May 2012

So, some bad news

I have blogged on and off about my bid for funding that I was working on. I have been working on this project, a project to analyse videos made for Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, as a part of a post-doc project. These bids are quite involved and you do a lot of work to get them off the ground. We had more-or-less finished the writing up of the bid this last month and were getting ready to send it in.

I woke up at 1AM on Saturday morning to pee, and for some reason checked my e-mail on my iPod. I had an e-mail that I didn't see before I went to bed from the Primary Investigator on the project saying that in preparation of an internal review of the project before it went out to the funding council, she had met with some higher ups to make sure the process would go smoothly. They said the project was too high risk and shouldn't be sent for review because it wouldn't get through.

Crash. Boom. And my ten days of bad luck turned into 15.

I have a lot of feelings about the process of the application, but I'm not one to burn bridges so I will keep those to myself, for the most part. It was hard though. Take these last 11 months of e-mailing, calling, writing, working and just bin it. Done.

There's no happy ending to this story right now. I'm hoping the narrative turns around, that it can be turned around. I still have time. Time is on my side.

09 May 2012

08 May 2012

Throwing out

I got up this morning and had a yen to clear my desk at home. This led to a wholesale tearing apart of my filing cabinet and binning of documents that were important some years ago, but no longer matter. Bank statements, old MOT certificates, tax letters from 2009.

We have been in the UK for nearly four years now. Mei is turning 3 tomorrow: she was born in this country. I can't really fathom that. I said to Yoko, as we drove to the one British restaurant I like and can afford: I feel like we are going to be here for a while. That's the feeling this week. The metaphor is slowly slipping into a lukewarm bath. Ambivalence—I am oriented towards life in this country, my life in general with the deepest, profoundest ambivalence. I don't even want to floss some days.

After my deadline slipping back and not getting this job in Sweden that I was quite close to getting, I cut the grass and took the weekend off. I wanted to smoke a cigar too, but I didn't have any and there are too many calories in the whiskey on the kitchen counter for me to get really excited about it. The first week of May 2012 was the worst week of the year, apart from Mia's passport coming which I relished for about ten minutes before forgetting about... Only the thesis matters, but why rush to get done, at this point. I got an e-mail from the research school saying my deadline for submission was 30 September 2013. They put the 2013 in bold like that: are you sure you're going to submit this year? Yes, I said, yes, of course.

I'm going to be underemployed for a time, there's no two ways about it. I need to get my thesis in, but my main prospect for work, the bid that I have been working on at Lancaster for nearly a year now, will be in later than I planned, and I will, in all likelihood, stay in this country until I know whether it has gone through or not. If I'm lucky and we get the funding quickly, the job might start in October, but that is quite unlikely. It's more likely that it would start in January, in the dead of winter. At least I can close my eyes: The train to Lancaster skirts the most beautiful parts of England; all the sheep on the hills. 

Underemployed, but not poor: I can keep working part time and look for full-time work. What do they say, put out my shingle? What sort of metaphor is that? Something will happen between October 2012 and March 2013: I will find work somewhere or we will make our way back home to Japan. I don't know if I want that now. Not today, at least.

My jeans are still tight, but I am running again and realising that I may semi-permanently be stuck right between 81 and 83 kgs. as long as I train and don't take care to keep my caloric intake under 2,500 kCals. I don't have the energy to do that now: I have the energy to run and write when I need to, but not, apparently, to try to hold my body down and tame it.

Bakalava, a friend just now brings me Syrian bakalava. I ask the LORD to not lead me in temptation, even though I don't believe in the LORD or temptation. I'll take any placebo that works (as my friend Magnus says).

Before you go phoning home, I should say this malaise is the result, the direct result, of writing a PhD thesis and submitting in the next 3–6 months. That's all. I'm fine, I'm completely fine. I need people to bring me coffee sometimes, to show me patience, and leave me alone when I stare at thesis chapters printed out and spread on the floor. I need help, but not the kind of help that I can get. Difficult human endeavour, whatever it is, pushes you to a point where you have to do it, but you have to do it alone. I'm surrounded by (a metaphor) people telling me, No, do it again, no, do it again, no, do it again. 3 months, 4 months, 5 months, 8 months, whatever. Do it again, do it again, do it again.

The cleaning of the desk: I threw away payslips and receipts and water bills. Four years of administrative shit. What do I have to show for four years in the Milton Keynes, England's new city. Something, I hoped, throwing away a book of blank deposit slips I never needed. I hope I can look back at all this and say, at some point, definitively, it was worth it. It was worth it. That's a tautology, I think. If I was writing my thesis, I would delete that sentence and try again. All the best sentences are ones that have been deleted once and rewritten. I have a thesis full of them. You can always say it better.

Search reveals

Funny to find yourself while searching for something about your own research. Hey, this Pihlaja thesis sounds really relevant!

03 May 2012

Why fail when you can succeed

As anyone who has clicked the 'Thesis' tab on the top of this blog knows, I have been feverishly trying to complete my thesis ahead of schedule, to submit on 1 August. This was supposed to have a lot of good knock-on effects for my job search, getting my viva done on time, and getting the hell out of dodge all before my funding expired. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), this is not, simply not, going to happen. I had a supervision meeting yesterday that last two hours and documented where I was and where I needed to be and how long it was going to realistically take me to get from where I am to where I need to be. That timeline has me submitting sometime between 21–28 September. Crash. Bang. Explosion.

That sound you just heard was the sound of my ambitious goal falling apart. Looking at your watch at Mile 10 and going, No, there's no way I am going to break 3:30:00.

The meeting was, in a lot of ways, the most awful thing, but in a lot of ways the most comforting thing. My supervisors were supportive, but honest: that's what I need. I was, as usual, a bit frustrated with myself and my inability to present my thoughts in writing as clearly as I thought I had. The discussion was something like, 'You need to do X' and me thinking, 'But I thought I was doing X.' I'm not. I need to go back, try again, do better.

The timetable doesn't, actually, look that different except that there are another 7–8 weeks at the end to tidy up... And my draft will go to the supervisors at the beginning of August, so two weeks becomes four.

Why I had set the bar so high in the first place, I don't know. I mean, I do know, but I think I need to be a little less... hard on myself about it. It will be okay.

And only two or three more supervision meetings left.

01 May 2012

The marathon, two

A quarter of a mile matters.

I woke up on Sunday morning and it was raining. Not British rain, not the sort of rain that you can walk in and not really get wet, but the sort of rain that would compel you to bring an umbrella. I ate an apple and a bagel, and then another apple and another bagel and Yoko, the woman I love, taped up my right foot.

Yoko, the woman I love. It's strange to me what times in marriage you suddenly realise how much you love someone, how much you need them. When your wife tapes up your foot for a race—this is love. Yoko had the girls make signs and a medal for me too: this is love. A deep, abiding, intense love that is so sufficient.

I worried about the silly things that you come to worry about before running—about going to the toilet and what precisely is the best thing to wear.

Yoko and the girls dropped me off at 8:30 at the stadium. I decided to wear my jacket and run with it until the third mile when Yoko and the girls would meet me and I would give it to them. I walked through the rain into the stadium, having a brief moment a panic that I didn't have a photo ID on me, but was assured that it didn't matter.

In the Stadium concourse, I paced and paced, buying cookies from a charity bake sale a couple of times and checking my watch again and again. I sat down next to a guy on the cement. He had a number close to mine and the same name. We started talking and he turned out to be running the marathon because he was turning 30 this year as well. He was a foreigner too, like me, from Australia.

I set out for the start line at about 9:15 and it took about 20 minutes to get there because there were so many people. I was, however, one of the first people in my corral, which was a bit silly as it was wicked cold outside. I jumped up and down for a while until more and more people showed up and the heat of all the bodies made standing outside much more bearable.

And then it started. No gunshot, no nothing, we were all suddenly just running. And getting passed, I think the whole corral behind me went past me, but I was determined to have a slow first mile. Too slow, it turned out, I ran the first mile in about 9 minutes, and I was, for the rest of the race, painfully close to breaking 3:30, but not quite there. Not quite close enough.

Yoko and the girls met me at Mile 3 and I pulled off my coat, but it got caught up on my watch. I struggled to get it off and when I got running again, I noticed that the stopwatch had been switched. I toggled through and it was stopped at 25 minutes some seconds. Shit. I reset it and started again. 25 minutes at Mile 3, I thought, okay, I just gotta add 25 minutes to whatever time I have.

It was uneventful from there: lots of rain, lots of puddles, running around some in the grass. I didn't notice it at the time, but the race was rerouted an extra .25 miles between Miles 7 and 8 when I got to the first hour, I looked at my watch and realised I was at least 3 minutes behind hitting 3:30. No way I would make that up I thought. Still, the time was good enough. Not bad.

The trails were really tight between Miles 6 and 11ish, I think. You spent a lot of time close to other runners, which was comforting in a strange way. What I mentioned below about the sense of running in a pack. 

I passed Mile 13 and felt good through Mile 14 when I first started to feel my hamstrings hurting: a good hurt. When you run, you learn to recognise good hurt from bad hurt. Bad hurt leads to injury, good hurt is from working hard. But it hurt, none-the-less, and I began to say my mantra to myself: I run to find the void. I was saying it outloud, I realised, and the guy in front of me looked back at me.

15, 16, 17 were nothing I remember.  Few guys starting to drop out to stretch.

18, 19. I realised that I hadn't needed to use the toilet. I felt a bit like I might have to throw up, but not seriously.

20. This was supposed to be the wall I thought, but there was nothing there.

21, 22. This went right by our house. I had run all these paths before.

23. Nothing.

24. The bottom of the hill behind the hospital. I stopped looking at my watch and focused on getting to the top of the hill without stopping. I run to find the void. People were walking at this point, but I pushed on and on.

25. From here on out, you could see the end. It was an odd feeling. I am going to make it. I am going to have run the whole thing. I will not have done it in 3:30. I came down the hill into the stadium feeling an odd sense. At this point I could have kept running another half hour. You reach a point where you can't run any faster, but you can continue at your same pace without any problem. I entered the stadium, looking for Yoko and the girls, and saw the gun time just clip past 3:37:00 and I sprinted to the end.

And it was done. You had to walk around the stadium to the end, and up to the concourse. I was feeling okay, and got up to the concourse to take off my shorts and try to call Yoko. They had gotten stuck trying to park and I went to meet them in the parking lot, but I was realising that my body temperature was dropping very, very quickly. There were no blankets at the finish and I was very, very wet still. I found Yoko and the girls and Yoko had a blanket for me. I sat in the car, warming up.

A quarter of a mile matters. Afterwards there was a lot of talk on the FB page about the length of the race. It doesn't matter to my time in the end, even if it hadn't been re-routed, I would have been above 3:30. But you would have run differently, you would have broken it, you would have, you would have Another part of me says.

I met a former professor of mine in London yesterday, and she asked how my time was. If you don't follow marathon running, it's hard to really describe times. Murakami talks about this: you only run against yourself. It didn't matter to me what place I was. It didn't matter if I beat anyone. All that mattered was my own time. Was it good? I smiled, 'B-plus,' I said. 'I've always been a B-plus student.' She smiled too, 'Sounds more like A-minus to me.'

My body feels mostly recovered today. I am still swollen up: my jeans don't fit and I haven't gotten control of my eating again. But I am a marathoner now. I have a Personal Best time. I really, really enjoyed the race. What else matters.